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Memphis Grizzlies to honor Gary Payton, Luol Deng, Nancy Lieberman and Eddie George as part of team’s 21st Annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration game

PUBLISHED January 10, 2023 | News

Tip-Off Scheduled for 5 p.m. CT, Monday, January 16Side-by-side Telecast on Bally Sports Southeast and TNT

Memphis, Tenn. — On Monday, Jan. 16, the Memphis Grizzlies, National Civil Rights Museum, City of Memphis and Shelby County will host the 21st Annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day Celebration Game, presented by Ford and your Mid-South Ford Dealers.The MLK Celebration Game vs. the Phoenix Suns will tip off at 5 p.m. CT in a side-by-side telecast, broadcasting regionally on Bally Sports Southeast and nationally on TNT. Local channel listings can be found here. The Celebration Game concludes a collection of events honoring the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr; annual events include the FedEx Service Project, Sports Legacy Award presentation, annual Earl Lloyd Sports Legacy Symposium, the National Civil Rights Museum panel, youth spoken word contest and Coaches Forum. All events are to continue the ongoing conversations with the Memphis and Mid-South community to remember, celebrate and act on Dr. King’s legacy. Associate MLK Celebration Game sponsors include FedEx, Verizon and Hyde Family Foundation. Fans can visit grizzlies.com/mlk for a full list of this year’s 21st Annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day Celebration events, as well as watch symposiums and discussions from previous years.

National Civil Rights Museum Sports Legacy Award Honorees 

Honorees of the 18th Annual National Civil Rights Museum Sports Legacy Award, presented by Ford and your Mid-South Ford Dealers, feature NBA greats Gary Payton and Luol Deng, along with women’s basketball standout and pioneer Nancy Lieberman and NFL star and current Tennessee State University head football coach Eddie George. The honorees will be celebrated on game day during the Earl Lloyd Sports Legacy Symposium, presented by the Hyde Family Foundation. 

Widely considered as one of the greatest point guards in NBA history, Payton has been named to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame and the NBA’s 75th Anniversary Team following his 17-year career with the Seattle SuperSonics, Milwaukee Bucks, Los Angeles Lakers, Boston Celtics and Miami Heat. Nicknamed “The Glove,” Payton was named the 1995-96 NBA Defensive Player of the Year and was selected to the NBA All-Defensive First Team in nine consecutive seasons. The nine-time NBA All-Star and nine-time All-NBA honoree won an NBA championship with Miami in 2006.

Payton’s philanthropy focuses on the economically disadvantaged, as well as youth development. The Gary Payton Foundation was established in 1996 to provide safe places for recreational activity, and to help underprivileged youth. Payton also donated $100,000 to the East Oakland Youth Development Center, a youth center that he attended in Oakland when growing up, for a gym renovation. In 1999, he wrote an autobiographical children’s book entitled Confidence Counts as part of the “Positively for Kids” series, illustrating the importance of confidence through events in his own life. In July 1999, Payton was named to The Sporting News’ “Good Guys in Sports” list.

A native of South Sudan, Deng enjoyed a 15-year NBA career and perhaps is best known for his 10 seasons with the Chicago Bulls, who he helped guide to six postseason appearances and a trip to the 2011 Eastern Conference Finals. After leading Duke to the NCAA Final Four as a freshman, Deng was selected seventh overall in the 2004 NBA Draft and later was named an NBA All-Star twice and received 2011-12 NBA All-Defensive Second Team honors. Following his time with the Bulls, Deng played for the Cleveland Cavaliers, Miami Heat, Los Angeles Lakers and Minnesota Timberwolves.

The Luol Deng Foundation works to improve the lives of people in Sudan and South Sudan through education and sport. Deng has also been involved with the United Nations’ World Food Program and Nothing But Nets, which works to prevent malaria in Africa. He now serves as an Ambassador of the Basketball Africa League and is President of the South Sudan Basketball federation. The longevity of Deng’s NBA career and world work has enhanced the lives of people in his home country, and throughout the world.

One of the most influential figures in the history of women’s basketball, Lieberman became the youngest basketball player in Olympic history to win a medal when she helped the USA women’s basketball team capture silver as a 17-year-old at the 1976 Olympics in Montreal in the first women’s Olympic basketball competition. Lieberman went on to star collegiately at Old Dominion and professionally in the Women’s Pro Basketball League (WBL), Women’s American Basketball Association (WABA) and WNBA. Elected to the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in 1996 and Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame in 1999, she also has coached in the WNBA, NBA and NBA G League.

Having grown up on the blacktop courts of Queens, N.Y., Nancy Lieberman Charities builds and refurbishes basketball courts across the country. Called “Dream Courts,” these courts aim to make basketball more accessible, as well as provide a safe environment for kids to play. Nancy has partnered with the City of Memphis and NLE Choppa on a Dream Court in Memphis that is scheduled to open this March.

After winning the 1995 Heisman Trophy at Ohio State, George played nine seasons as a running back in the NFL, including eight seasons for the Houston Oilers/Tennessee Titans franchise before finishing his career with the Dallas Cowboys. The 1996 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year and four-time Pro-Bowler earned a reputation as one of the NFL’s most reliable and prolific runners, reaching 1,000 rushing yards seven times and never missing a start during his time with Houston/Tennessee. In NFL history, only Walter Payton (170) has started more consecutive regular season games than George (130).

Eddie and Tamara George’s purpose is to positively impact communities by providing financial and community support to organizations and individuals that support excellence in education, entertainment, and entrepreneurship, including providing funds for high-qualified programming and enrichment opportunities through the newly established Tamara & Edward George Legacy Fund. A 501(c)(3) non-profit organization of the Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee.

The symposium will be broadcast live on Bally Sports Southeast on Jan. 16 at 3:30 p.m. and will recognize Payton, Deng, Lieberman and George for their dedication and significant contributions to civil and human rights, the social justice movement and for laying the foundation for future leaders through their careers in sports – all in the spirit of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Discussions and Community Impact

The multi-day schedule of events begins on Thursday, Jan. 12, with the Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service presented by FedEx. Grizzlies players and staff and FedEx volunteers will join Memphis Shelby County Schools supporting one of the “Memphis 13” schools, Springdale Elementary. Over 60 years ago 13 first grade students integrated into four schools in Memphis, including Springdale Elementary, and those students are known as the Memphis 13. Volunteers will renovate and spruce up several spaces at the school, including a parent resource room, teacher work room, and fill backpacks benefiting the student body.

Also on Thursday Jan. 12, will be Flows at FedExForum: Driving the Dream, presented by Verizon. Middle and high school students, who attended a December workshop encouraging public speaking, creative writing and stage presence, return to FedExForum for a showcase of their talents. Participants will share their spoken word piece – which will feature how they envision driving the dream by continuing the legacy of MLK Jr – in front of live judges. This showcase will also include youth entrepreneurs as vendors and a special guest poetry presentation by Clayborn Temple Artist in Residence, 13-time Slam Champion and 10th Ranked National Lady Poet, Writeous Soul.

On Sunday, Jan. 15, honorees Deng, Liberman and George along with Grant Hill, Danny Green, Elliot Perry and other special guests will tour the National Civil Rights Museum. Following the tour, all guests will attend the National Civil Rights Museum:  Intersection of Race & Sports panel hosted at the NCRM beginning at 6 p.m. Hill, Green, Cornell Watson and Katrina Merriweather, head coach of the University of Memphis women’s basketball team, willhave a conversation centered around confronting Confederate Culture on College Campuses, moderated by Senior NBA Writer for ESPN and Andscape, Marc Spears. The conversation will be wide ranging with a focus stemming from Watson’s photo series, Tarred Healing, which was commissioned by UNC but then met with controversy. Watson is a documentary photographer and former artist in residency at UNC Chapel Hill. The exhibit opening was originally cancelled, but eventually allowed to proceed. Tarred Healing will have a soft opening at the NCRM the night of the panel before opening to the public on MLK Day 2023.

Fans can tune in to the Intersection of Race and Sport conversation live at grizzlies.com/mlk, Memphis Grizzlies on YouTube and civilrightsmuseum.orgMedia availability for the National Civil Rights Museum Sports Legacy award honorees and discussion panelists will be at the conclusion of the panel around 7 p.m. Media who wish to attend should RSVP to Kaki Glieber at KGlieber@grizzlies.com.

Game Day Celebrations and Activities

The event lineup continues on game day with the annual Earl Lloyd Sports Legacy Symposium, presented by the Hyde Family Foundation, from 3:30-4:30 p.m. in the Grizzlies Built Ford Tough Training Facility at FedExForum. The symposium, hosted by Grizzlies television play-by-play announcer Pete Pranica, will feature Payton, Deng, Lieberman and George, who will share stories of their community work and experiences through their career in sports, in the spirit of Dr. King. The symposium will feature opening remarks from National Civil Rights Museum President Dr. Russ Wigginton and Grizzlies President Jason Wexler.The symposium will be broadcast live on Bally Sports Southeast. While admission is free to the symposium with the purchase of a ticket to the Grizzlies vs. Suns game, space is limited. Doors open at 3 p.m.

Prior to the symposium and Celebration Game on Monday, a Martin Luther King Jr. Grizzlies Youth Coaches Forum and Reception, presented by Nike, will be held in the Blues Room at FedExForum from 2:30-3:15 p.m. Participants will include honorees Gary Payton and Eddie George, head coach of the Memphis Hustle, Jason March, and other special guests. The forum is designed to engage coaches as positive influencers and to equip them with tools to develop young athletes of character.

Fans will also be able to experience the Martin Luther King Jr. Day Mentoring Recruitment Fair beginning when FedExForum doors open at 3:30 p.m. through halftime. Community partners will be on site throughout the Plaza and Big River Steel Terrace Level Concourses at FedExForum to answer questions and discuss volunteer opportunities.

Beginning at 11 a.m. on MLK Day, the Grizzlies are supporting the 2nd annual Race for Reconciliation, a 5k or 1 mile Run/Walk in downtown Memphis in of Martin Luther King Day. Grizzlies Legend Zach Randolph will be on hand to award finishers with their medals.

Tip-off for the Grizzlies vs. Suns matchup is at 5 p.m. with the National Civil Rights Museum Sports Legacy Award Ceremony presented by Ford and your Mid-South Ford Dealers preceding the game. Memphis Grizzlies Scholars will present the honorees with the Sports Legacy Award before tip-off. In addition, Monday’s game will feature a national anthem by Isaiah Sharkey, former child-jazz prodigy and Grammy award winner, as well as a special halftime performance presented by Ford and your Mid-South Ford Dealers featuring a Martin Luther King Jr. tribute video and special halftime performance by Grammy Award-nominee Aloe Blacc.

Tune-in Monday, Jan. 16 at 5 p.m. to the MLK Celebration Game vs. the Phoenix Suns in a side-by-side telecast, broadcasting regionally on Bally Sports Southeast, presented by FanDuel and nationally on TNT. Fans will want to tune in early at 4:30 p.m. to catch Grizzlies LIVE presented by Ford and your Mid-South Ford Dealers featuring Pete Pranica, Brevin Knight, Rob Fischer and Chris Vernon. Local channel listings can be found here.

Fans who want to support the Memphis Grizzlies and purchase single game tickets, including the MLK Celebration Game, can do so now by calling (901) 888-HOOP or by going online to grizzlies.com/tickets. Season Tickets are the best way to guarantee seats to the top matchups at the lowest prices all season long. For more information on the Grizzlies, visit grizzlies.com, ‘like’ Memphis Grizzlies on Facebook or follow @memgrizz on Twitter and Instagram.